prototype was Alekhine..."
Is this true?
Nabokov's "warmest", according
to the author himself, novel is apparently the most significant
writing about chess in world literature which undoubtedly
ennobles the kings game despite the evident inferiority,
sickliness and narrow-mindedness of its hero. Such is the
fascination of Nabokov's wonderful, tuneful prose that the
single fact that the leading role was given to a chess player is
beneficent and honorary for the art of chess, even though he is
not a very attractive person.
Probably it was Nabokov's eminence,
his champion's title in literature that made critics connect
the heading of the novel with the well known Alekhine's Defence
which was a brilliant revelation of the great maestro, and many
of them were even convinced that Nabokov's novel was about the
At the same time, for Alekhine such
an assumption would be simply insulting. The first Russian World
Champion was known as a person with a brilliant and versatile
talent. A Doctor of "both Laws", he spoke basic European
languages perfectly and was by right acknowledged as one of the
best chess writers. It's curious that Russian readers know the
books of their great country-fellow in translations because
Alekhine always wrote in the languages of his editors. There were
times when the renowned maestro performed successfully both as a
specialist in crime detection and as a diplomat. Being endowed
with an outstanding appearance, Alekhine was an impeccable man of
fashion, he enjoyed success with the fair sex and never missed
the little pleasures of life.
Let's read what Capablanca wrote:
"A Slav, over six feet tall,
weighing some 200 English pounds, fair-haired and blue-eyed,
Alekhine's appearance is striking when he enters the playing
hall. He speaks fluently six languages, he has the degree of a
Doctor of Law, and his general education is much higher than that
of an average man."
Bogatyrchuk1 recalls that when Russian participants of the
tournament in Mannheim were interned in 1914 after the beginning
of WW1 the handsome and robust Alekhin made love to the daughter
of their jailer which considerably relieved the Russian chess
players. Can you ever imagine Luzhin in such a situation?
Nabokov himself never wrote that
Alekhine was the prototype of Luzhin. So why has the
critics jury determined it this way? A whole
constellation of chess players, born in the Russian Empire, shone
in the Europe in the twenties: Bogoliubov, Janowski, Rubinstein,
Tartakover, Bernstein. Probably it was only the semi-noble origin
that allowed the association of Alekhine's name with Luzhin's
As for the World Champion, he once
called Tartakover to be Luzhin's prototype. Of course it was a
joke: a famous wit who also was a Doctor of both Laws and
whose writings were nearly the best in the chess periodicals of
that time, Saveli Grigorievich Tartakover could have been
Luzhin's prototype just as probably as Alekhine.
No doubt that Luzhin was an invented
person, who apparently had the features of different people. By
the way, is it at all possible that a person like Luzhin or
Zweig's Tschentowitsch would have become an outstanding chess
player? The question is not new; it has been asked since the
appearance of these heroes in world literature. Knowing a great
deal about the subject and being personally acquainted with
several big grandmasters, the author of these lines
tries to give a definite answer: an unhealthy,
defective person with a single hypertrophied talent can become a
good professional chess player. Still he will never
be a World Champion or a Challenger as one has to
have a strong personality, to be a real sportsman to achieve
In general, Nabokov describes the air
of chess contests very well, unlike some of the famous writers
who were intolerably ignorant of chess (both Leonov and Kuprin
should not have written about chess). The great writer knew about
chess: he played at the rating of a first class player, was a
fervent problemist, he even published a collection of his own
problems. His descriptions of Luzhin's duels with Turatti are
very good, and as for the episode with Valentinov's problem, we
can feel in it not just a big writer, but an expert in chess
Let's read it once again:
"Luzhin lifted his eyelids
cautiously. He took the sheet mechanically. A cutting from a
chess magazine. Mate in three. A composition by Dr. Valentinov.
The problem was cold and artful, and, knowing Valentinov, Luzhin
revealed the key in a single moment. As if with his own eyes he
saw in this tricky chess hocus-pocus all the craftiness of its
In my opinion this is irreproachable.
I mean the chess part only. On the whole, I believe,
"Luzhin's Defence" is an excellent book, and I am just a
grain of sand in the shoreless ocean of its admirers.
From chess fiction we can recommend
the novel "The Tempo" by the French author Camill Burnikel
which was awarded the Grand Prix of the French Academy
Fiodor Parfenievich Bogatyrchuk was born on November 14 (according to
the Julian calendar) 1892 in Kiev. After school and the faculty
of medicine at the St. Vladimir University he was at the front
for a short time. As a doctor, he took part in the Civil War
against the Bolsheviks. After the Soviet regime was settled in
the Ukraine he was a radiologist. In 1940 he defended his thesis
for a Doctor's degree.
In 1943 he left Kiev, together with his family, and lived in
Germany for some time where he entered the Committee for the
Liberation of the Peoples of Russia which was led by general A.
Vlasov. In the CLPR he headed the Ukrainian National Council.
After the defeat of Germany he moved to Canada and took out the
Canadian citizenship. Soon he began to teach at the University of
Ottawa. He had remarkable results in chess. In 1927 he became the
joint winner of the USSR Championship together with Romanovski.
More than once he played in Chess Olympiads for the national team
of Canada. After WWII it was prohibited even to mention
Bogatyrchuk's name in the Soviet periodicals.